Monday, June 2, 2008
Back from the work weekend, tired, but well fed.
When we study Gurdjieff's enneagram in conjunction with his ray of creation, we see that organic life on Earth -- and, consequently, man -- occupies the place of a shock.
What does that mean?
Man's existence, along with the rest of organic life, is confined to an extremely thin layer on the surface of the planet. Comparatively speaking, man's own skin is thousands of times thicker. In the case of man, his own skin is an organ that breathes, and it seems likely that in the same way, the skin of organic life on planet Earth takes in what might be called "air" -- that is, cosmic radiations and emanations -- which are transmitted into the planet in one way or another, according to a set of natural laws we don't understand. At least that is the implication in Gurdjieff's cosmology.
A shock is very different than a note. Notes are specific resting places in the development of an octave; places where the rate of vibration pauses to produce a harmonious individuality that relates sensibly to the level above or below it, that is, the other notes in the octave. Shocks -- that is, intervals -- are there, in Gurdjieff's system, to provide an impetus by raising the rate of vibration. That is to say, there is a momentum to a shock. It is not at rest, as a note is. It is in movement--there's a tension--, and imparts a portion of its movement to the impetus from one note to the next in order to help move it along.
Hence the title of this particular post: assistance. Man's role is as an assistant. We are here to help something. Yes, maybe we are here to help ourselves, but we are also here to help something much larger than ourselves.
Maybe one of our problems is that we don't stop to think about what we are supposed to be assisting with. We blithely assume that we are here to get what we need, without considering that we may not be able to get what we need unless we dispense with our responsibilities properly first. If a man practices containment, makes effort, and attends, he may be able to develop enough energy to impart what is necessary to the system as a whole and still have a little bit left for himself. What tends to happen instead is that a man tries to keep everything for himself, and by doing so puts himself in a situation where eventually, as it says in the Bible, everything is taken away from him.
The law of reciprocal feeding is reciprocal. Yes, of course that sounds redundant. The redundancy serves us, however, in that it reminds us that responsibility and service move in two directions.
There's a place in In search of the Miraculous where Gurdjieff asks Ouspensky why God should even bother listening to a man's prayers. He points out that this is a question a man should ask himself. Now, when we take ourselves in the context of service, we see that it is repeatedly emphasized in all the major religions that man is here to serve. We are actually supposed to be helping God, not taking everything from ourselves and running away. Behavior of that kind is like the behavior of a little child, so I suppose the notions of punishment that we take away from religions (sin in Christianity, karma in Buddhism) may be apt when taken from a literal point of view.
All the major religions also emphasize that if we serve, we will be given help. I think the difficulty with prayer is that we all want to ask for help before we have performed our duties. We race about, willy-nilly, enslaved by our egoistic desires, our lusts, and our other hungers, and it's only when things get bad that we suddenly remember there is help available out there, at which point we beg for it, having done nothing to earn a right to it in the first place
This, of course, leads us to the question of how we ought to serve. It reminds me of something that Orage said many years ago. A man's first responsibility in life is to decide whether or not he believes there is a God. If he decides there isn't one, fine. Off he goes, to do anything he wants.
If, on the other hand, he decides that there is a God, then the very next question that a man must ask himself is, what obligation does that place him under?
When we think of ourselves as notes -- as something that is complete, and harmonious -- we are making a mistake. Yes, if a man develops completely, he may serve as a note in one sense or another. On the other hand, in the context of the level he is on, he must always serve as a shock, that is, something that makes an effort to help.
Our stewardship of the planet is failing. Great nature may no longer have need of us if we do not make a real effort within ourselves to reverse this.
I'm not sure that that can be helped; it may well be that man will serve the purpose of great nature, in the end, in ways that do not necessarily serve Man. It occurred to me this weekend that the entire intention behind the direction things are taking on the planet may be to create a terrible crisis. It may be that man has to come up against a terrific shock that involves hundreds of millions or even billions of deaths in order to bring him back to a place where sobriety conquers the inebriation we are currently enjoying.
It may even be that that is necessary. I'm not sure I have ever considered it from that point of view before, but it is well worth considering. After all, I've learned from my own inner and outer experience that one must see the entire structure burned to the ground in order for something new to happen.
It may be that man and his civilization are going to need an equally shocking and disastrous encounter in order for them to go any further.
This may sound grim, but I'm not sure it is. If we are reaching a moment where collapse is necessary in order for the next step to be taken, then the collapse will turn out to be a good thing in the end, no matter how much anguish and misery it produces while it is under way.
That's how it seems it has always worked out for me.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.